In a path breaking ruling, the Bombay High Court has extended to live-in relationships a pro-choice right which only married women have enjoyed so far in law. The HC held that a provision under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, which currently doesn't apply to live-in relationships, should be understood to be applicable also to couples who live in the nature of a marriage.
A 45-year-old law that governs and grants women the right to abort a pregnancy spelled out how a married woman, who may have conceived by accident despite using birth control devices, could be permitted to terminate such pregnancy till 20 weeks, if unwanted, on the grounds that its continuation would cause her mental trauma.
Since the law specified "married woman", the HC while dealing with the rights of women in prison to medical termination, said law in today's scenario of live-in relations would extend to even such women, who though not married, live in as one, with their partner.
The judgment, salutary to women who have not tied the knot but live with a man in a relationship akin to marriage, recognised the extent to which such relationships resonate and are rising in society and the need for protective laws. The law as it stands says an unwanted pregnancy caused by failure of a birth control device in a marriage can be ended, but only till the foetus is 20 weeks old and following a doctor's opinion. The law, said the court, should now be read to include and cover live-in couples.
The HC was deciding a suo motu public interest litigation (PIL) triggered by a case of a woman prison inmate in Mumbai who wished to terminate her second pregnancy while in custody . The PIL saw a bench of Justices V K Tahilramani and Mridula Bhatkar delving into the essence of the law that legalises abortion in India--the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act. Section 3(2)(b)(i) of the Act allows termination of pregnancy if there is risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to her physical or mental health.
The judges observed that besides physical injury, the legislature widened the scope of termination of pregnancy by including injury to mental health of the pregnant woman.
The law provides for two `explanations' of what constitutes such grave mental health injury . While the first points to a rape survivor and the anguish a resultant pregnancy cau ses, `Explanation 2' under the Act lists a pregnancy that is accidental, caused by failure of a birth control device or method used by a married woman or her husband. "Such a pregnancy if unwanted, may be presumed to constitute grave injury to mental health of the pregnant woman," the law states.